Although the bulk of its area is covered by ice caps inhospitable to most forms of life, Greenland's land sand waters support a wide variety of plant and animal species. The northeastern part of the country is the world's largest national park. The flora and fauna of Greenland are strongly susceptible to changes associated with climate change.
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310 species of vascular plants were said to be found in Greenland in 1911, including 15 endemic species. Although individual plants can be profuse in favourable situations, relatively few plant species tend to be represented in a given place. Except for in Qinngua Valley, Greenland has no native forests, although 9 stands of conifers had been cultivated by 2007.
In northern Greenland, the ground is covered with a carpet of mosses and low-lying shrubs such as dwarf willows and crowberries. Common flowering plants in the north include bog rosemary, yellow poppy, Pedicularis, and Pyrola. Plant life in southern Greenland is more abundant, and certain plants, such as the dwarf birch and willow, may grow several feet high.
The only natural forest in Greenland is found in the Qinngua Valley. The forest consists of mainly of downy birch (Betula pubescens) and grey-leaf willow (Salix glauca), growing up to 7–8 metres (23–26 ft) tall.
Horticulture shows a certain degree of success. Plants such as broccoli, radishes, spinach, leeks, lettuce, turnips, chervil, potatoes and parsley are grown up to considerable latitudes, while the very south of the country also rears asters, Nemophila, mignonette, rhubarb, sorrel and carrots. Over the last decade, the growing season has lengthened by as much as three weeks.
In the 13th-century Konungs skuggsjá (King's mirror), it is stated that the old Norsemen tried in vain to raise barley.
Among the large land mammals are the musk ox, the reindeer, the polar bear and the white Arctic wolf. Other familiar mammals in Greenland include the Arctic hare, collared lemming, ermine and Arctic fox. Reindeer hunting is of considerable cultural importance to the people of Greenland.
Domesticated land mammals include dogs, which were introduced by the Inuit, as well as such European-introduced species as goats, Greenlandic sheep, oxen and pigs, which are raised in modest numbers in the south.
As many as two million seals are estimated to inhabit Greenland's coasts; species include the hooded seal (Cystophora cristata) as well as the grey seal (Halichoerus grypus). Whales frequently pass very close to Greenlandic shores in the late summer and early autumn. Species represented include the beluga whale, blue whale, Greenland whale, fin whale, humpback whale, minke whale, narwhal, pilot whale, sperm whale. Whaling was formerly a major industry in Greenland; by the turn of the 20th century, however, the right whale population was so depleted that the industry was in deep decline. Walruses are to be found primarily in the north and east of the country; like narwhal, they have at times suffered from overhunting for their tusks.
As of 1911, 61 species of birds were known to breed in Greenland. Certain birds such as the eider duck, guillemot and ptarmigan are hunted for food in the winter.
Of the many species of fish inhabiting Greenland's waters, several have been of economic importance, including cod, caplin, halibut, rockfish, nipisak (Cycloperteus lumpus) and sea trout. The Greenland shark is used for the oil in its liver, as well as fermented and eaten as hákarl, a local delicacy.